I can hear local schoolchildren singing from my study (their playground is on a nearby roof) and reading about a supposed ‘plague pit’ in the local press – seemingly any piece of unclaimed land attracts the notion that it’s there because it was once a plague pit – reminds me that the ‘Ring a ring of roses’ story is false.
The myth that it’s about the plague started mid-20th century when it became fashionable to ascribe historical backgrounds to nursery rhymes. The word ‘posies’ was taken to mean the posies of flowers carried as nosegays against the smell of the dead.
As late as 2007, local papers were reporting that Norbury residents were fighting plans to use ‘plague pit land’, but in fact Norbury had virtually no residents in 1665, as a little fact-checking would have discovered.
Many London myths are dying out now – a few odd folk customs like Beating the Bounds and the Doggets Boat Race still take place, but the building of grottoes by children and the making of guys for Guy Fawkes’ Night have gone – the latter has only disappeared in the last few decades, driven out by Hallowe’en’s marketing-friendly push from the US.
Instead, a new Easter horror has appeared. Waitrose are selling Easter Crackers and toys. When I asked why we should give toys at Easter, I was told it’s becoming an American custom. Can this be true?
Personally, if there’s one traditional event I’d bring back it would be Bartholomew Fair at Smithfields, where you could see dozens of plays in booths all around the fairground.